Ramapuram Forane church is one of the most famous Catholic churches in Kerala. Its patron is St Augustine. This was in fact the first church in Kerala established in the name of St Augustine. The church has a tradition and history extending over hundreds of years. Situated atop the small hillock at the centre of Ramapuram in Kottayam district, St Augustine’s Forane Church has been the living symbol of the religious and cultural life of the Christians of this area. The beginning, growth and development of this church is deeply related to the very life of the town and its people.

Ramapuram has an enviable position in the cultural tradition of Kerala

 As the birth place of Ramapurathu Warrier, the author of Kuchelavrutham 
Vanchippattu,[Traditional songs tuned for the movement of the oars These highly rhythmic songs were created to keep up the spirits of the boatsmen]

 and as the home ground of Paremmakkal Thomma Governador,
[Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar (1736-1799) is the author of Varthamanapusthakam (1790), the first ever travelogue in an Indian language[1]. He was Administrator (Governador) of the Archdiocese of Cranganore from 1786 till his death]
 the author of the first travelogue in Indian languages, one of the first modern thinkers, and the first to undertake adventurous world travels like Marco Polo and Huen Tsang, and Lalithambika Antharjanam, popular throughout the state as a famous Malayalam writer, Ramapuram has a unique place in the cultural history of Kerala. It has also obtained the honour of being the birthplace of blessed Thevarparambil Kunjachan who contributed significantly to the spiritual life of the Catholics of Kerala.

Ramapuram had become famous centuries before as a market for agricultural products and various spices. It had been a thickly populated land ever since the Sangha period. Long before the strengthening of the Brahminical religion in the 9th century, both Buddhism and Jainism had flourished in Kerala. The five-feet-tall Panchasana Buddha idol unearthed from Kondadau, near Ramapuram, proves that Ramapuram was inhabited by people before the 9th century.

The establishment of the church
St Thomas, a prominent disciple of Jesus Christ, had come to Kerala as early as the first century, baptizing several people. They were known as Marthoma Christians. The disciple founded seven churches at various places like Kodungalloor, Kollam., Palayur, Kottakkavu, Kokkamangalam, Niranam and Chayal (Nilakkal). Tradition says that a Christian community flourished around each of these churches. In course of time the descendents of the first Christians migrated to different parts of the state for various reasons. As a result of such large-scale migrations, big Christian communities were formed in places like Kuravilangadu and Aruvithura in central Travancore. One such community developed in Ramapuram as well. By the beginning of the 12th century, there were hundreds of Christian families in Ramapuram. In those days Christians were respectfully called Mappila (Mahapilla) Panikkars.

Ramapuram was a part of the Vadakkumkur kingdom headquartered at Vaikom. When the population of Ramapuram increased, a member from the royal family of Vadakkumkur took the administration of Ramapuram, forming his offices at Vellilappally. He was called Idathil Thampuran. He appointed a Brahmin and a Christian as his ministers. The Thampuran donated land to the Cholappilly Christian family, which got the ministerial post, near the palace. The Palakkuzha Christian family, whose duty it was to purify oil by touching it, was settled near the Ramapuram temple.

The fertility of the soil and the hardworking nature of the early Christians, combined with the encouragement of the rulers, led to the material prosperity of the Christians. That automatically led to a vast increase in the population. They had to go to distant Kuravilangadu for their spiritual needs. There were no roads in those days and so they had to travel through the forest and through difficult paths to reach Kuravilangadu. However, they didn’t like to move away from their ancient parish at Kuravilangadu.

There is a legend about the establishment of the church at Ramapuram. It is centered on a grand mother of the Palakkuzha family. On a Sunday, the old woman from the Palakkuzha (Paikkatt) family started her journey on foot to the Kuravilangadu church. When she reached the level land at Kuzhamala, she heard the bell for the noon mass. She had started early but couldn’t reach the church in time and so she took an oath to build a church at Ramapuram. Under her inspiration, the devoted and generous Christian community of Ramapuram approached Idathil Thampuran and he gave them permission to build a church at Ramapuram. He not only gave them permission but identified a suitable place for the church after inspecting all the land around Ramapuram. The land belonged to Karokkal Kaimal (Idanadu) who was a middle lord. He donated the land for the proposed church and exempted it from all taxes. He also donated the vast paddy field of Kulangarappadam at Purathottuvathukkal. As a token of gratitude the descendants of Kaimal have been given rice and vegetables (panthrandekalum koppum) on the main festival of the church. That practice has been maintained ever since. There was also the practice of having a member of the Kaimal family accompanying the procession on the festival holding a sword and shield. That practice was discontinued later.

In those days, at the time of Cholappillil Yousep Kathanar of Ramapuram who was the vicar of the church at Pala, the construction of the church at Ramapuram progressed. The church was dedicated to Virgin Mary as in the case of Kuravilangadu church. The construction was over in 1450 AD. Cholappillil Yousep Kathanar was given the duty of performing all the rites in the church. At first, non-Christians had objected to the construction of the church but in subsequent years, there grew up a warm relationship among them and the Christians.

It was at that time that the army of Thekkumkur king came to Vellilappally and attacked the palace of Idathil Thampuran. There was also an attempt to destroy the church. The church survived mainly because of the determination, diplomacy and strong belief of Cholappilly Kathanar. The army went back without destroying the church.

Reconstruction of the church
As the Christian population went on increasing, the church was reconstructed twice, making it bigger. Now we find an old church in the name of St Augustine built using Portuguese architectural design. The foundation stone for this old church was laid by Arch Bishop Alexis Dom Menesis (Allesu Methran) in 1599. This church was dedicated to St Augustine perhaps because Allesu Methran was a Portuguese belonging to the Augustinian Congregation. The veneration of St Augustine became popular in Kerala only after the establishment of this church. The altar of the first church in the name of Virgin Mary is preserved in the sacristy of the old church even now. The paintings on the altar done five centuries ago using natural coloring materials is quite different from that of any other Christian church.

Before the coming of the Portuguese, the churches in Kerala were made in Indian architectural style. The very old altar in this church is an example for that. The entire picture on that show Indian style. If we go up from the sacristy of the old church along the ladder, we reach the Yogasala. If we go up further, we can see three rooms above the Madbaha. The priests used to live there. It was during the tenure of Rev Fr Mathai Kottirikkal that the fa├žade of the old church and the Kottakkurisu in front of the church were built. The tombs of Paremmakkal Governador and Blessed Kunjachan are in the old church in the name of St Augustine.

The new church
The old church became inadequate as the number of Christians went on increasing. It was decided to build a new big church in an elegant design without demolishing the old one. The foundation stone for that was laid on 16 July 1864, on the feast of the Mother of Carmel. The construction of the new church was started by the vicar, Rev Fr Valiaveettil. The vicars who followed, Rev Fr Tharavattathu and Rev Fr Vayattattil, particularly the former, gave spirited leadership to the construction work.

Again, the space within the church became inadequate as the number of Catholic families increased considerably. The attempt to build a new wing on the northern side of the church to provide more space for the worshippers began during the time of Rev Fr George Karuvelil (1952-54). The work was completed in 1955. Rev Fr Chandy Njavallil transformed the northern wall of the Madbaha into an arch to enable those who stand in the northern wing to participate in the service. Later, the southern wall was also reshaped into an arch by Rev Fr Mathai Kottarathumyalil. It was he who laid mosaic flooring in the Madbaha and erected the flag post. In the main altar of the old church of today, the central position has been given to the Mother of Carmel. Nowhere else do we find two adjacent churches with identical facades. Just as in the case of temples, here we find huge compound walls around the church and beautiful engraved doors. The main parts of them are still carefully maintained.